A man and a woman, both bald and dressed in red vinyl suits with matching heels and lipstick, walk hand in hand past a crowd of art collectors, gallery owners and partygoers in the Miami Beach Convention Center. Across the hall, a motorized sculpture of a businessman—a "corporate soldier," in the artist's words—crawls by. A few hours later, uniformed maids show visitors through an art collection, and it's not clear whether the maids are part of the exhibit. Welcome to Art Basel Miami Beach, the contemporary art world's newest extravaganza, which will hit this city for the third straight year during the first week of December.
I guess my family helped create Miami's art madness. In 1996 we opened the Rubell Family Collection, a foundation for contemporary art, in a building that was once a DEA confiscated-goods warehouse. We invited major international artists, from Jeff Koons to Maurizio Cattelan, to exhibit, see the collection and meet local artists. We invited art dealers, critics and collectors. Most importantly, we invited Sam Keller.
Keller is the director of Art Basel, the world's most influential modern-art fair, held each year in Switzerland. He fell in love with Miami and, in 2002, started a sister fair here. Now every December the world's top art dealers descend on the city to set up booths at the convention center and in a temporary oceanfront village of converted shipping containers. Thousands of collectors come, as well as artists, curators, private-jet salespeople and just about anyone with any relationship to the art world. Museums put on their best shows, dealers exhibit their most promising artists, and everyone throws over-the-top parties.